Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Driving or Driven

Throughout my early years, I spent many, many hours herding cattle.
Driving them into corrals.
And loading them into big cattleliners for shipping.
It was long, hot, dusty, tiring work.
But at the end of the day, it was done.
Done.
Check written. Hands dusted.
Done.
Now, let me tell you my grandfather’s version of the same process, sixty years earlier . . .
The cattle, which had been wintering out in the desert, were gathered to the home place in Teasdale, Utah. From there, they were trekked by Grampa and his brother-in-law, Gus, to the nearest railroad hub, Green River—a distance of over 100 miles through mountains and desert that took the better part of a week to accomplish.
The trip was mostly uneventful, until the herd reached the Green River.
There, they found the Green River ferry ill-equipped to handle such a large number of cattle. Their only recourse was to convince the animals to swim across.
The cattle, natives of the mountains and desert of Utah, were unused to large bodies of water. Especially water that moved. They could not be convinced to cross.
For two hours, Grandpa and Gus tried.
Finally, feeling the two men’s discouragement, the boy who ran the ferry suggested that he bring his family’s cows to the opposite side of the river and see if that would encourage ‘cross-age’ (my word).
It worked! Either because the visiting cows wanted to make new friends, or because they were simply tired of the wretched cowboys whistling to them and chasing them about. Whichever.
They crossed.
Then the cattle were driven up the hill to the stockyards and loaded into train cars.
Now the actual trip could begin . . .
The rules of the day dictated that one man could accompany a certain number of train cars of cattle. Grampa’s herd had filled enough cars that two men could have accompanied them. Grampa was going along, but Gus was not, thus, when another man ran up just as the train was about to leave and asked if he could ride along, Grampa gave permission and installed him in Uncle Gus’ place.
The train started out—destination, Chicago.
When it made a routine stop a few hours later, Grampa saw an old friend he hadn’t seen in years and left the train to visit with the man.
Then got so busy talking that he didn’t notice when the train pulled out.
Without him.
In dismay, he stared after it.
There went his cattle. And, to make matters even worse, the papers that accompanied said cattle. Papers that allowed anyone with the animals to sell them.
Pocket the money.
And disappear.
Bearer bonds for livestock.
Grampa’s only hope of catching them was the next train. A passenger one.
That left in six hours.
After a nerve-wracking wait, he boarded the train and started out.
There are all kinds of people in the world.
Honest.
And less-than-honest.
Fortunately, Grampa had chanced upon one of the former.
When he finally caught up to the livestock train, he discovered his cattle had been well-cared for by the stranger. Fed and watered.
And awaiting their true owner.
The trip to Chicago and sale of the herd was completed and Grampa was able to head home.
A little tired-er. A little richer. And a little wiser.
But what a trip!
Not sure, yet which I prefer.
His day.
Or mine.

From here. Teasdale, Utah.
Through here. Green River, Utah.
To here. Chicago, IL

The only picture I have of Grampa on a horse.
Taken shortly before his death in 1959.

4 comments:

  1. Sadly, I think his day was better. Although life was more difficult, the chance of meeting a stranger with morals who would do the right thing by you was much higher back then. I fear that nowadays that cattle would be long gone.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Our ancestors had to be so strong just to make a bare living. I don't know if I could have done it. Thank goodness your grandfather's cattle were taken care of by that stranger!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think his may have been a tad more stressful.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree with Delores. I bet he was sick to his stomach the whole day. Great story though.

    ReplyDelete

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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